Social Democrats (Ireland)

The Social Democrats (Irish: Na Daonlathaithe Sóisialta)[8] is a centre-left[6][7] political party in Ireland. The party was launched on 15 July 2015 by three independent TDs, Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy, and Róisín Shortall. The current leaders of the party are Murphy and Shortall.

Social Democrats

Na Daonlathaithe Sóisialta
LeadersCatherine Murphy TD
Róisín Shortall TD
General SecretaryBrian Sheehan[1]
ChairpersonMorgan Nolan[2]
Vice-chairEvie Nevin[2]
Founded15 July 2015 (2015-07-15)
Headquarters28 South Frederick St, Dublin 2
Membership~ 1,000 [3]
IdeologySocial democracy[4]
Nordic model[5]
Political positionCentre-left[6][7]
Dáil Éireann
6 / 160
Seanad Éireann
0 / 60
European Parliament
0 / 13
Local government
18 / 949
Social Democrats party leaders, Róisín Shortall (left) and Catherine Murphy (right)


The Social Democrats was established with a co-leadership arrangement between its three founding members. Róisín Shortall is a former Labour Party TD and former Minister of State for Primary Care. She resigned from the role and from Labour in September 2012, citing lack of support and the lack of an explanation from then-Minister for Health James Reilly concerning his controversial decision to locate a new primary care centre in his own constituency.[9] Catherine Murphy was successively a member of the Workers' Party, Democratic Left and the Labour Party before being elected as an independent TD in 2005. Stephen Donnelly first entered politics as an independent TD in the 2011 general election, having previously worked as a consultant for McKinsey and Company. Both Murphy and Donnelly were members of the Technical Group in the 31st Dáil, with Murphy having served as its Chief Whip.

The party ran fourteen candidates in the 2016 general election, including its three incumbent TDs, former Labour Party Senator James Heffernan, and county councillors Gary Gannon and Cian O'Callaghan.[10]

In May 2016, the party formed a technical group within the Dáil with the Green Party.[11][12]

On 5 September 2016, Stephen Donnelly resigned as joint leader and left the party, stating that he was doing so "with great sadness, having vested so much together with my parliamentary colleagues, Catherine and Roisin, a small core team and many volunteers across the country, into the establishment of the Social Democrats over the last 20 months", but referring to his relationship with his fellow leaders, that "some partnerships simply don't work".[13] On 2 February 2017, he joined Fianna Fáil. [14]

Through 2017, the Social Democrats recruited several sitting county councillors, including Jennifer Whitmore (Wicklow County Council), Joe Harris (Cork County Council), Dermot Looney (South Dublin County Council), and Paul Mulville (Fingal County Council).[15][16][17] In February 2018, June Murphy (Cork County Council) joined the party.

In May 2019, 19 of the party's 58 candidates were elected as councillors its first local elections.

In November 2019, the party contested 3 of the 4 by-elections caused by the election of Irish TDs to the European Parliament.

In the 2020 general election, the party ran 20 candidates in 20 constituencies, and increased their seats to six, despite a small fall in the number of first preference votes received.

In June 2020, their only Limerick councillor Elisa O'Donovan quit the party.[18]

Ideology and policiesEdit

At the party's launch, its three TDs stated their support for the Nordic model of social democracy, backed the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and the Official Secrets Act, and stated their opposition to domestic water charges.[19][20][21]

The party's manifesto for the 2016 general election listed commitments to "three core areas":

  • Policies that support a healthy, inclusive and progressive society
  • Policies that ensure a strong, stable and vibrant economy, and support Ireland's SMEs with the same vigour that is applied to the multinational sector
  • Policies that make politics and government more transparent and responsive to public, rather than party need[22]

It supports Irish membership of the European Union. The party is also in favour of a directly elected mayor of Dublin.[23]

Health policiesEdit

One of the core policies put forward by the party is that of Sláintecare, an Irish national health service. Sláintecare is a fully costed plan for a universal, single-tier public health service that would join up health and social care in the Republic of Ireland. Sláintecare was developed as the result of a cross-Party Oireachtas Committee chaired by Róisín Shortall, which sought to examine the issue of healthcare in Ireland. The report was published in May 2017 and marked the first time cross-party consensus was achieved on a new model of healthcare in Ireland.[24] The Sláintecare policy plan also includes (but is not limited to): a legal entitlement to homecare packages for older people, significantly reducing prescription charges and lowering costs for medicines, providing access to basic procedures at a local level, and improved funding for mental health, including counselling, community programmes, and adult mental health teams.[25]

Housing policiesEdit

The Social Democrats have made universal access to affordable housing a priority for their party.[26] In May 2017 the party published the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill to eliminate loopholes to the vacant site levy and increase penalties for developers engaged in land hoarding.[27] In January 2018 the party called for a nationwide rent freeze.[28] In December 2019 the party proposed a motion of no-confidence in housing minister Eoghan Murphy.[29]

During the 2020 general election the party published their housing manifesto.[30]

Social policiesEdit

The Social Democrats have published legislation on equal access and non-religious discrimination in schools,[31] extended unpaid parental leave[32] and greater minimum notice periods for residential tenancies.[33] The party called for a yes vote in the Referendum to Repeal the Eighth Amendment on 25 May 2018.[34]


The Social Democrats hold a strong anti-corruption stance. The party has called for the establishment of an independent anti-corruption agency in Ireland to tackle white-collar crime and corruption in the corporate world and political spheres.[35][36]

Election resultsEdit

Dáil ÉireannEdit

Election Seats won ± Position First Pref votes % Government Leader
3 / 158
  7th 64,094 3.0% Opposition Stephen Donnelly (Feb. – Sept. 2016)
Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall (Sept. 2016 – 2020)
6 / 160
 3  5th 63,397 2.9% Opposition Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall

Local electionsEdit

Election Seats won ± First-pref. votes %
19 / 949
n/a 39,644 2.28%

European ParliamentEdit

Election Seats won ± First-pref. votes % Leader
0 / 13
- 20,331  1.2% Catherine Murphy
Róisín Shortall

2016 general electionEdit

The party received 3% of first preference votes nationally with its three leaders re-elected on the first count in their respective constituencies.[38]

2019 local and European electionsEdit

The Social Democrats contested their first European Parliament elections in May 2019, with Councillor Gary Gannon running for election in the Dublin constituency.[39] Gannon received 5.6% of the first-preference votes, finishing 6th out of 19 candidates in the first count. He was eliminated on the 14th count.

The party also contested their first local elections in May 2019. The Social Democrats put forward 58 candidates for seats on local councils. 55% of the candidates were women, making it the second highest percentage of female candidates put forward among all political parties.[40] 19 of the 58 candidates were elected, more than trebling the party's representation in local government.[41] Ellie Kisyombe, a Malawi-born asylum seeker running for the Social Democrats in Dublin's North Inner City LEA, was retained after a review of inconsistencies in her account of her asylum history and time in Direct Provision, which caused several party members to resign from the National Executive.[42]

Mary Callaghan, who was elected to represent Ballymun-Finglas on Dublin City Council in 2019 was elected Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin to Green Party Lord Mayor Hazel Chu in 2020.[43]

2020 general electionEdit

The Social Democrats fielded 20 candidates in the 2020 general election. They returned six TDs to the Dáil in February 2020: Murphy and Shortall were re-elected in their constituencies, and were joined by Holly Cairns in Cork South-West, Gary Gannon in Dublin Central, Cian O'Callaghan in Dublin Bay North and Jennifer Whitmore in Wicklow. The Social Democrats finished level on seats with the Labour Party and exceeded the seats of other left-leaning parties Solidarity-People Before Profit and Independents 4 Change.[44]


  1. ^ @SocDems (22 September 2016). "Brian Sheehan is appointed as the Social Democrats' first General Secretary" (Tweet). Retrieved 22 September 2016 – via Twitter.
  2. ^ a b "About us - Social Democrats". Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  3. ^ Coalition could be the next big issue for the Social Democrats. The Irish Times. Author - Harry McGee. Published 27 January 2018. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  4. ^ Nordsieck, Wolfram (2020). "Ireland". Parties and Elections in Europe.
  5. ^ Catherine Murphy (19 July 2015). "We have a Swede dream for the future of Ireland". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b c "Ireland". Europe Elects.
  7. ^ a b "Social Democrats latest new Irish party ahead of uncertain elections". Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  8. ^ "An Draoi Gramadaí: daonlathaí sóisialta". (in Irish). Retrieved 11 November 2020.
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  11. ^[permanent dead link]
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  13. ^ "'Some partnerships simply don't work' - Stephen Donnelly quits Social Democrats in major blow for party". 5 September 2016.
  14. ^ Pat Leahy (2 February 2017). "Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly to join Fianna Fáil, party says". Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  15. ^ "Cork County Councillor Joe Harris joins the Social Democrats". 28 February 2017. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  16. ^ "South Dublin County Councillor Dermot Looney joins the Social Democrats". Social Democrats (Ireland). 8 June 2017. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  17. ^ "Councillor Paul Mulville joins the Social Democrats". Social Democrats (Ireland). 24 August 2017. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  18. ^ McQuinn, Cormac. "Social Democrats councillor Elisa O'Donovan quits party". The Irish Independent.
  19. ^ "Newly-formed Social Democrats pledge to abolish water charges". RTÉ News. 15 July 2015.
  20. ^ "Ireland's newest political party will abolish water charges and repeal the 8th". 15 July 2015.
  21. ^ "New Social Democrats group pledge to abolish water charges and repeal the Eighth Amendment". Irish Independent. 15 July 2015.
  22. ^ "Policies". Social Democrats website. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  23. ^ "Social Democrats Call for Directly Elected Mayor". 27 June 2016.
  24. ^ Oireachtas, Houses of the (30 May 2017). "Future of Healthcare Committee publishes Sláintecare – a plan to radically transform Irish healthcare – 30 May 2017, 11.46 – Houses of the Oireachtas". Retrieved 24 April 2019.
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  26. ^ "Making Homes Affordable and Secure". Social Democrats. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  27. ^ Oireachtais, Tithe an (3 July 2018). "Urban Regeneration and Housing (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members] – Dáil Éireann (32nd Dáil) – Dé Máirt, 3 Iúil 2018 – Tithe an Oireachtais". (in Irish). Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  28. ^ "Conference". Social Democrats. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
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  31. ^ "Social Democrats Call for End to Religious Discrimination in Schools". Social Democrats. 19 November 2016. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  32. ^ "SocDems' bill to increase unpaid parental leave goes to final stage in Dáil". Social Democrats. 12 June 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  33. ^ "Social Democrats welcome cross-party support for renters' rights Bill". Social Democrats. 23 January 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  34. ^ "Soc Dems 'Yes for Repeal' referendum campaign launches in Dublin, Cork & Galway". Social Democrats. 22 April 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  35. ^ McGee, Harry. "Social Democrats propose a new anti-corruption agency". The Irish Times. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  36. ^ "Tackling Corruption". Social Democrats. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  37. ^ "33rd DÁIL GENERAL ELECTION 8 February 2020 Election Results (Party totals begin on page 68)" (PDF). Houses of the Oireachtas. Retrieved 8 May 2020.
  38. ^ Election 2016, RTÉ News, 4 March 2016
  39. ^ "Cllr Gary Gannon to contest Dublin seat in Euro Elections". Social Democrats. 19 March 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  40. ^ Kavanagh, Adrian (16 October 2018). "Female candidates contesting the 2019 Local Elections". Irish Elections: Geography, Facts and Analyses. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  41. ^ Bray, Jennifer (26 May 2019). "Social Democrats 'reasonably happy' with the party's performance". The Irish Times. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  42. ^ Bray, Jennifer (4 May 2019). "Ellie Kisyombe to run in elections after correcting backstory, party says". The Irish Times. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
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  44. ^ "General Election candidates". Social Democrats. Retrieved 21 January 2020.

External linksEdit